OPINION: Dear Paul
First off, let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart. For so many things, actually . . . too many to list. I'll try but I only have 1000 words and an oft-grumpy word-counting editor, which means I don't really have the space to do you real justice.
I'll try my best though. I've listened, viewed and read eulogies to you throughout the media in the past weeks, and reeled at the way people are already referring to you in the past tense. It has made me angry, but it has also made me contemplate the impact you have made on my life.
And it has honed the words I wanted to say to you while I still can.
I remember your first Holmes show all those years ago, when that despised American sailor Dennis Conner stormed off your set and we all held our collective breath at the tenacity of you - this small man with dark curly hair and glasses who appeared to have a Herculean heart and spunky soul.
We'd never seen current affairs like it and the first five minutes of each weekday we'd gather in the smoko room (no water coolers in those days) to discuss what Holmes had done on telly the night before.
As we spoke of the interviews, the hi-jinks and the news scoops that seemed insurmountable to attain, I remember admiring you for one thing that remained consistent throughout your broadcasting career . . . your fairness. I liked the way you gave everyone a chance, your often gentle way of enticing those wanting to talk to do it meaningfully, and your ability to be "on the side" of everyman.
No-one since you has done that in quite the same way.
On our drives into town each morning, hubby and I would listen to you on the radio and I'd often get choked up when some terrible subject made your voice wobble. Later on in your career, that care for those unfortunates . . . abused children, murdered mums and dads, grieving families . . . seemed stronger and more intense, particularly when your own children made you appreciate their preciousness.
I liked the way you spoke of your mum and dad, your wives and children. You'd reminisce about family holidays and we'd honestly feel like we'd been there with you. I'd never call you a friend, or even a close acquaintance of mine, but nevertheless I knew an awful lot about you and you seemed to understand how to keep me loyal to the sound of your voice.
There were times I loved you, times that you quite frankly pissed me off, times I hated you with a passion. But through it all, I always respected you. And I still do now. I think I met you four times.
The first was nearly two decades ago, when I popped into TVNZ to watch the news being done. In those days, the "control room" where those running the news programmes worked was a cataclysm of sound, light, television screens broadcasting news from around the globe and people shouting at the tops of their voices in mainly swear words.
You were, on that day, ropable. Something had gone wrong and you were blaming your executive producer for it totally. Every second word that left your lips was the "f" word and, when you called from your phone on the Holmes set desk to argue with him, he'd continually pick it up and say "Golden Wong takeaways, how can I help you?"
I remember thinking your face was so ruddy that you might have a heart attack from the stress. Then someone leaned over and said, "Don't worry, this is totally normal, it happens every night," so I started to enjoy it.
You were always entertaining.
The second time was at a Holmes party for some milestone or other. You asked me if I had a drink and inquired about my children, and I admired the way you steered your elderly mum through the throng so gently and lovingly. On that night, I never heard a single expletive leave your lips. I remember your mum smiling the whole time.
Things were way different the third time I met you. You were hosting a leaving party for a TVNZ executive and the language on stage was so blue that I had to go outside for some fresh air. You happened to be out there enjoying a fag and we chatted for a moment about nothing much.
I wondered at how you could keep up your busy schedule of radio and television at each end of the day, and you said you had to grab the opportunities when they presented themselves . . . and make sure you took good power naps. It seemed feasible at the time.
The last time was somewhere in the days before you left TVNZ for Prime. I was waiting in the car park for hubby to come out after a news meeting and you raced up to some luxury car parked next to mine and unlocked the door.
When you saw me, you leaned over to say hi. "That husband of yours is an 'effing' gem," you said, or something reasonably similar. You looked tired and drawn. I remember hoping you'd made the right decision.
Now, Paul, I am preparing to lose you. Not as your poor wife or children or relatives are - nothing even remotely - but as someone who has truly changed my life. What your existence has done for New Zealand journalism will not be repeated for a long time, if ever in today's online environment.
I thank you for all your words, the humour, sorrow and love. I thank you for sharing your family, and understanding the troubles of Joe Blow from Normal St, Normalton.
Thanks for not being perfect, for stirring up shite when you felt like it, for joining my husband drinking every now and again until the early hours and for making every day different for me.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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